U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan and peacefully resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict top the Bush administration’s agenda in a foreign policy speech at Lisner Auditorium Friday.
In an address that lasted about an hour, Powell touched on a number of foreign policy issues, including military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. relations with Europe and the Far East. He also reflected on his time at GW.
Powell, a GW alumnus, symbolically opened the new Elliott School of International Affairs building at a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony before the speech and then took time to reminisce about his experiences at GW during his address.
Powell, who received a master’s degree in business administration from GW in 1971, expressed gratitude for the opportunities GW afforded him.
He told the audience of students, alumni and faculty, including former University President Lloyd Elliott, that his time at GW allowed him to escape the horrors of Vietnam, where he was a captain in the Army.
“This university opened up a world for me, a new world,” Powell said. “And I came to GW and found my horizon widened, my mind opened. I learned so much here that was so tremendously useful to me as I went on to different assignments.”
He received three standing ovations during the address.
Powell proceeded to give an overview of President Bush’s National Security Strategy, stressing that terrorism was the major obstacle to spreading peace in the Middle East and other regions embroiled in conflict.
“The war on terrorism is our number one priority, and it will remain so for as long as is necessary,” he said.
Referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Powell said it is crucial to refrain from letting recent violence in the region scuttle the United States’ commitment to the “road map,” as the peace plan is known.
“President Bush’s strategy also demands that we play a role in helping to solve regional conflicts, that we not just sit back behind our oceans and not take note of problems that are out there that we can play a leadership role in solving,” he said.
Powell singled out Palestinian president Yasser Arafat for criticism, saying the leader has “not been playing a helpful role” in the peace process.
Powell said progress has been made in bringing democracy to Iraq despite bombings that have killed more than 100 people there in the past two weeks.
He also criticized suggestions that rebuilding efforts have been too
“In Iraq … it is impossible to overcome in only a few months obstacles that have been decades in the making,” he said.
Powell spoke at length about the need to find a “common interest” with other countries in the effort to rebuild Iraq.
“That common interest is one source of a rare and remarkable opportunity: America’s chance to enjoy for the first time in a hundred years excellent relations with all the world’s major powers simultaneously,” he said.
Responding to recent European criticism of U.S. military campaigns, Powell maintained that U.S.-European relations are healthy and constructive.
“The Transatlantic partnership is based so firmly on common interests and values that neither feuding personalities nor divergent perceptions can derail it,” he said. “We have new friends and old friends alike in Europe. They are all, in the end, friends, best friends.”
Speaking about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, Powell said the U.S. would take no immediate military action against the country but warned Kim Jong-il’s government to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
After the speech, hundreds of students gathered on H Street gave Powell a hero’s welcome as he emerged from Lisner Auditorium. Powell, escorted by his security detail, shook hands with scores of students for about five minutes before being whisked away in a limousine.
While most students expressed gratitude for Powell’s visit, many were disenchanted by the content of the speech.
“It was basically a plug for Bush,” freshman Meghan Blake said.
But other students, including junior Andrea Peterson, said Powell’s speech was informative and inspirational.
He covered so much in his speech that “a couple of people came out joking that they got two credits worth of foreign policy,” she said.
-David Levine contributed to this report.